When you have children but your relationship ends, you still need to agree on how to raise them.
Who will be the primary caregiver, and who will need a visitation schedule?
In Arizona, the courts prefer that you agree on child custody. However, if neither of you can agree, the child custody courts make the determination based on what it considers best for your child.
How Do Arizona Courts Determine What Is Best Regarding Child Custody?
For parents that can’t agree, a judge in family court will decide for them based on a few factors. They will consider the mental and physical health of both parents. If the child is old enough, the judge may even ask the child who they prefer.
Judges in family court will also look at the capability of each parent to provide a stable home, whether a move would be disruptive or not to the child, and if there is any history of domestic violence, alcohol abuse, or drug use, among many other factors.
4 Types of Child Custody Orders in Arizona
In Arizona, the law provides several types of court orders for child custody or legal decision-making, which is the preferred term. And it’s likely no surprise that many of these custody cases result from disputes caused by divorces.
1. Sole Legal Decision-Making
The court determines that one parent has the ultimate authority to make major decisions involving their child. This would include decisions about healthcare and education. The parents may still work together to compromise, but the final authority is given to the parent that has been granted sole custody.
2. Joint Legal Decision-Making
If the judge grants joint legal decision-making, then both parents have equal rights to make significant decisions for their children. You will both need to submit a parenting plan to the court. Keep in mind that this is not the same as joint physical custody, which can be granted even if the court orders sole legal custody to one parent.
3. In Loco Parentis
Some cases involve “in loco Parentis“, meaning “in place of the parent”. in these cases a non-parent takes on the parental role for a child. They may petition the court for custody or parenting time as long as they have a significant history with the child and can prove it would be in the child’s best interest. Judges will typically grant this court order if one of the parents is deceased, if the parents are unmarried, or if the parents are in the process of legally separating or divorcing.
4. Parenting Time
In Arizona, you must also provide a parenting plan to address issues related to your child. It should include a physical custody schedule, how you plan to resolve disputes, and written statements from both parents showing an understanding of joint custody. You must also have provisions that pertain to the regular review of this plan.
What Is the Procedure for a Custody Order and How Do the Courts Decide?
When you or your spouse decide to file for legal separation or divorce, you will need to agree about child custody arrangements. Due to custody disagreements, the court is often placed in charge of making this decision.
The decision for custody orders by the court is made in temporary order hearings. It can also go to a final trial if you still can’t agree. Once the legal separation or divorce is granted, the court can still modify the custody order at a later date.
As the court decides what is best, it may consult outside experts for professional advice in each situation. The experts will evaluate the family dynamic or offer opinions on custody. The intention is to decide custody based on what is best for the child.
How Can You Change a Custody Order from the Court?
In Arizona, you can modify the custody order from the court. Either parent can do this, though the request must be in writing. Changing an existing court order for child custody requires proving that the best interests of your child are served.
However, it is important to know that you face limitations in requesting child custody modifications. One of these limitations is that you are not permitted to file a request for the change for one year from the date of the first custody order.
Look, there are exceptions, such as if your child is in a dangerous situation. The court decides child custody based on the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of all children. So, if your ex-spouse is not providing a safe environment for your child, you can request this change to the previous order. Ultimately, you will want to discuss this with your attorney to ensure you follow proper procedure.
The goal is to keep a certain level of stability and predictability, which is always in the best interest of your child. If you’re not sure what to do in your situation, it’s best that you discuss it with a Glendale family lawyer to get the best possible outcome.